one little word: GIVE in May

Rather than making resolutions this year, I chose one little word for 2013 - a way to set my broad intention and create a guide for my path as I meander through a new year. I chose the word GIVE, and you can read more about that process here. At the beginning of each month I'll look back on the previous month and share with you how the one little word has been working in my life.

May had me thinking that perhaps I should give up on my one little word.  My record as a wildly giving person during the year of 2013 wasn't looking so great even before.  And then May happened.  It was a good month in big ways - we packed up our apartment and closed on our first house and moved in.  All of that was exciting and stressful and busy-making such that I was just holding onto a tiny thread of trying to focus on giving.  Then my to-be-mentee, who I was so excited to meet and begin working with, moved out of the state.  But all of that was just logistics.

The real issue was that May was not only a big, exciting month.  It was also a hard, sad month for reasons I won't go into on the blog.  On the outside, I was showered with blessings, but on the inside I was feeling empty and broken.  It seemed like the perfect time to give up on giving.  But I remembered a comment my friend Beth left on my one little word wrap-up post in February. 

"Maybe it's ok for 'give' to be related to giving yourself a break from the expectations and routines every now and again. Along these lines I think you should give yourself the night off to enjoy a movie with Navah."

I realized that, as new-age cliche as it might sound, what I really needed after May was to give to myself.  And not give myself pints of ice cream and hours escaping in front of the television - though I gave myself plenty of that in the beginning.  I needed to give myself something that would really nurture me, something that would help me heal. 

And so beginning June 2nd (it took me a bit to figure out what would be the right step forward), I committed to myself: 30 days of yoga. Not 30 days of hot yoga to shed pounds or 30 days of hour and a half long meditation sessions.  I'm not trying to make life harder with unrealistic expectations.  No, I committed to give myself at least 15 minutes every day for my own yoga practice - no matter what.  Some days I've only gotten in the bare minimum.  Some days it's been more.

I'm recognizing both how good it feels and how hard it is to care for myself in this way.  I worry about getting dinner made or getting the plants in the garden or hearing about my wife's day or taking Jammer for a walk or talking to the neighbors.  But what I'm really doing is trying to avoid being there for myself.  I'm trying to avoid the stillness that might bring tears again.  And at the same time, I know that stillness - and those tears - are exactly what I need.  I know that there's no going around, that there is only going through. 

So I go back each day, breathing in and out - through one pose.  And when it's time, on to the next.

one little word: GIVE in April

Rather than making resolutions this year, I chose one little word for 2013 - a way to set my broad intention and create a guide for my path as I meander through a new year. I chose the word GIVE, and you can read more about that process here. At the beginning of each month I'll look back on the previous month and share with you how the one little word has been working in my life.

I'm amazed how thoroughly this one little word - just four letters - is affecting the lens through which I see my journey this year.  And it's not always this sublime experience of blissfully giving of myself. It continues to bring challenges and opportunities for growth. These past few months, I've been tangled in knots over one piece of it.  Even now, I have trouble writing this post - it has taken me the whole week to get it out.  I feel, in some ways, ashamed of what I'm sharing.  And yet, I'm going to share because I wonder if there aren't others out there like me and if we might encourage each other.

When I started the year, I knew that one way I wanted to give was through volunteering.

So I started looking into possible volunteer opportunities, and one jumped out at me right away - working with a group called Diversity Rocks in Burlington.  It's a youth group that's made up of middle and high schoolers who are part of a growing refugee community in the Burlington area.  I had a friend who volunteered with them, and I was drawn to the group not only because I was interested in working with kids but also because I was excited about engaging with a more diverse population than I interact with on an everyday basis here in Vermont.

I went to a few of the youth group meetings, and I liked the kids a lot.  I loved hearing their perspective on things.  I liked watching them interact with each other - the incessant giggling, the little spats, the posturing.  I felt lighter when I was with them.  And I thought the group was serving a great purpose - a place where a diverse group of kids could come together to share experiences, encourage and support each other.  One of my first times there, we discussed college opportunities in a session designed to encourage the kids to view college as a real possibility for them.  An older member of the refugee community, who came to Burlington as a high schooler before Diversity Rocks began, told his story of studying every waking moment to try to learn English, then working two jobs so he could pay for community college to improve his test scores so he could land a soccer scholarship to a local college. I was awed and humbled by how little he took for granted, by how committed he was to doing whatever he had to do to get what he wanted.  He's still working six days a week and planning to go for a Masters degree.  The members of the youth group worshipped him.  So did I.

There was just one problem.  The group meets on Friday nights from 6:30-8:30.  Volunteers help drive the kids to and from meetings, so that often meant I was out until 9:30 or 10:00. Of course, that doesn't sound like that big of a deal.  But I was struggling with feeling upset about missing Friday evenings with my wife.  I work a cushy state job with boundaried hours, but she works for a law firm. Many weeks that means I rarely see her for any substantial length of time during the week. Without either of us ever saying it, Friday nights became kind of sacred for us.  It was our opportunity to reconnect after a week of busy nights.  Saturdays were filled with errand-running; Sundays she was often back at the office.  But Friday nights we kept just for us.

Until I started volunteering with Diversity Rocks.  I didn't do it every Friday night, but I was trying to make it every other Friday night.  And I kept finding that I was resentful.  I wanted to be at home reconnecting with my wife. I missed her.

I liked what I was doing with the kids.  I just didn't want to be doing it right then.  And every time I felt resentment, the very next emotion was guilt.  How could I be resentful?  Wasn't I the one who wanted to volunteer?  Hadn't I heard how hard that young man worked for everything he got?  Hadn't I heard how he took nothing for granted?  How could I be resentful about spending a few hours on a Friday night with fun kids?  Could I not even give that to a worthy cause?

I spent a few months of Fridays in this resentment-guilt loop, and every time I thought about giving up and doing some other sort of volunteering, I gave myself a stern talking-to about what it means to give of oneself and how it requires sacrifice and how I needed to stop being so selfish.  But the talking-to wasn't working.  My ambivalence kept me from really committing to the group, and I just found myself at home on Friday nights with my wife but feeling bad about myself. 

I'm not sure that I didn't - or don't - need that talking-to.  I still feel ashamed of my resentment, of my inability to sacrifice.  I still feel bad that I'm not going on Friday nights.  But focusing on that shame froze me in place.  Once I realized that the shame wasn't working to make me a better volunteer or a more giving person - that it, in fact, involved an enormous amount of self-focused time and energy, I set it aside as best I could and set out to find another volunteering opportunity.  This one is as a mentor through Spectrum Youth & Family Services in Burlington.  I'll spend one-on-one time with a middle schooler who could use an adult friend.  We'll plan events and activities that my mentee is interested in, and we schedule our meetings at times that work for us.  They've set me up with a 7th grade girl, and I'm excited to begin getting to know her.

After writing all of this, I think maybe the key to meaningful giving is meeting yourself where you are.  You might do amazing things, but if you're doing them filled with resentment, then someone's getting hurt.  You, or the people you're "giving" yourself to, or the people you love.  Eventually that resentment seeps into the giving act itself.  And that's rarely pretty. 

I truly believe that we all have something of value to provide to the world - something special that we can really give ourselves over to.  But if we get stuck thinking that we have to provide exactly this or in exactly that way, then we might end up not giving at all.  We might just walk away.  Maybe one day I'll be ready to give my Friday nights to an awesome youth group.  Maybe not. 

In the meantime, I keep remembering a phrase that I learned one of the first times I visited Burlington.  We were staying with friends who live in a group house, and I was doing a load of dishes after a big potluck.  One friend came into the kitchen and asked me if I really wanted to be doing the dishes.  I wasn't sure what she meant because who ever really wants to do be doing the dishes?  But she explained that she didn't want me washing the dishes because I thought I should.  I could wash the dishes only if I was washing from a place of joy, if I was giving joyfully.  I washed them that afternoon because I was so happy to be there, beaming from a morning of singing and meeting amazing people, because I was overflowing with gratitude for haivng been welcomed into such a warm place.

I've giggled about the interaction on occasion afterwards because in my house, if we only washed dishes when we were doing it from a place of joy, we wouldn't be able to walk into the kitchen.  But the memory keeps coming up again as I've thought through my volunteering struggles.  I want to throw my heart into volunteering.  I want to give the best, most loving parts of myself  And goodness knows, there are enough people and issues out there that we could all find some place where we could give joyfully.

I hope I've found mine.

A look back:
one little word in March
one little word in February
one little word in January

one little word: GIVE in March

I fell off the wagon in March.

Actually, I fell off a lot of wagons in March.

The giving wagon, the blogging wagon, the healthy eating wagon, the washing dishes wagon, and a bunch of other wagons I'd rather not share with the internet (although here's a hint: one of them starts with "sh" and ends with "ower").

Maybe it was the fact that I traveled twice during the month and never got really reoriented at home or the fact that the days were mostly cloudy and dreary or that I'm tired of a still somewhat annoying knee pain.  Or maybe it was just one of those months.

I was tired and unmotivated and spent an unfortunate amount of time whining.  I'd say that I didn't spend enough time writing or making delicious food or hanging out with friends or meditating or any number of things that would've been "good" or "helpful" things to do, but I'm thinking that it's possible I just needed a month to be blah.

April's looking up already.  I'm getting out of the house and doing fun things.  I'm appreciating the longer days and remembering that there's a non-blah me inside who likes to smile and laugh and engage.

That's the thing I've missed the most in this blah-full month - engaging.  I go inside myself when I'm down.  I get tired of my own stories.  I annoy myself, and then I turn away from others because I'm sure I'm annoying them too.  And then at some point (perhaps now?), I realize that I really miss them.  I miss people.  I miss engaging and connecting.  For me, that's one of the best parts about giving - it forces me to engage with other people, even when I'm feeling shy or less-than.

So here's hoping I can hop back on the wagon.

The giving, engaging, connecting, laughing, loving, being, enjoying, smiling, living wagon.

Tell me, what are you looking forward to this April? Are there wagons you're trying to hop back on?  Come on - engage with me!

One little word: GIVE in February

Rather than making resolutions this year, I chose one little word for 2013 - a way to set my broad intention and create a guide for my path as I meander through a new year.  I chose the word GIVE, and you can read more about that process here.  At the beginning of each month I'll look back on the previous month and share with you how the one little word has been working in my life.

During February, I've spent a lot of time thinking about who my giving role models are.  Whenever I'm trying to get better at things, I always find myself focusing in on people who inspire me with their skill - whether it's knitting or writing or painting or decorating my house.  So it's no surprise that I've done the same thing with my one little word - GIVE.

As I've thought about it, I've realized that there are an incredible number of people in my life who show me incredible examples of giving all the time - my wife, who cared for me endlessly while I was laid up with a hurt knee; my stepmother, who delights in sending thoughtful little packages for no reason at all; my friends who email videos and articles to brighten my days; and there are so many more.  

But there are a few that really stand out.

My friend Beth

Not only is she a delightfully fun person - kind and generous.  But she is the only person I know who sends cards for no reason except that she wants to say hello.  And she does that on a regular basis. Opening my mailbox to find a little card or postcard from Beth is a day brightener every time.  I'm hoping to beef up my own card-sending activities with some inspiration from my dear friend.

Fellow blogger Alexandra 

I met Alexandra just briefly at BlogHer outside the elevator bank, and she was delightful. But the reason that she's an inspiration to me is her behavior online.  I've mentioned before that I can be a bit neglectful about saying thank you.  And I can be guilty of the same thing on the computer. Not Alexandra.  When I comment on her blog, she doesn't just reply back to me.  She emails me.  She hops over to my blog, reads my latest post and comments on that.  Then she sends me a tweet saying hi and thanking me for visiting.  Every time. Her behavior has encouraged me to work on creating better connections online, and I'm thoroughly enjoying it.

My sister Hannah

Hannah is giving in that way that I could never hope to be.  Her desire to be of service to the world has been the primary impetus for every career decision she's ever made.  But if you try to praise her for it, she'll shoot you down immediately and explain that she's only doing what she wants to do.  And while my personal desires don't send me flying across the ocean to help the most impoverished populations, knowing her does inspire me to look around, to pay better attention to what's going on in the world and to find a place where my particular gifts might be of service.  

Who inspires you?

You can find my thoughts on my one little word in January here.

One Little Word: GIVE in January

Rather than making resolutions this year, I chose one little word for 2013 - a way to set my broad intention and create a guide for my path as I meander through a new year.  I chose the word GIVE, and you can read more about that process here.  At the beginning of each month I'll look back on the previous month and share with you how the one little word has been working in my life.

In thinking about where I wanted to give more during 2013, I realized that part of the reason that I often don't give is that I didn't give.

Let me explain.

A few months ago - a couple of days before I flew home for Thanksgiving - I got a haircut with a new stylist. I'd been going to the same salon for about five years in DC, so this felt like a big event. And it was superb. She did exactly what I had hoped for and even styled it all crazy and curly, which was really fun.

But when I got to the counter to pay, I realized that they only accepted tips in cash. I didn't have any. I was running late for an appointment, so I asked if I could drop back by later to leave the tip.  The receptionist said that wouldn't be a problem

But then my afternoon appointment ran long, and I wasn't anywhere near the salon during their business hours for the next couple days. And then I went home for Thanksgiving. And then...and then...and then...

I never dropped off a tip.  But I kept thinking about it. I kept loving my hair, and everytime I put my hands through it, I would think about how I needed to give my hairstylist a tip.

And then I kept not doing it.


Because I was embarrassed.

I was embarrassed that I didn't give her a tip that day. I was embarrassed that I didn't give her a tip on either of the next two days. I was embarrassed that I didn't just send one in after the holidays. Every day that I didn't do it added another level of embarrassment.

I do this all the time. It's why not calling someone back right away turns into not calling them back for a year. It's why I allow whole friendships to drift away because I didn't respond to an email. It's why I didn't finish sending my wedding thank you notes.

Once some amount of time has passed that seems like when I should have given whatever it was that I wanted to give (whether it's a phone call, a tip, a hug, an email, or a gift), I let embarrassment keep me from just giving it anyway. And when I really think about it, that's awfully sad.

So, in honor of my intention to give in 2013, I set that embarrassment aside and wrote 20 thank you notes.  I wrote a card and slipped in some cash and mailed it to my hair stylist.

Better late than never.